Thursday 2 May 2013

Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

"Look," says the detective. He stares down at the girl huddled on the gurney. Despite a half dozen blankets, the poor kid is still shaking as badly as when they pulled her from the water an hour ago. Another ten, fifteen minutes in that lake, Bob Pendleton thinks, and she might not have made it either. "Just tell the truth. The truth can't hurt." 
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Published by Quercus in February 2013
368 pages
There are stories where the girl gets her prince, and they live happily ever after. (This is not one of those stories.) Jenna Lord’s first sixteen years were not exactly a fairytale. Her father is a controlling psycho and her mother is a drunk. She used to count on her older brother—until he shipped off to Afghanistan. And then, of course, there was the time she almost died in a fire.  There are stories where the monster gets the girl, and we all shed tears for his innocent victim. (This is not one of those stories either.) Mitch Anderson is many things: A dedicated teacher and coach. A caring husband. A man with a certain... magnetism.  And there are stories where it’s hard to be sure who’s a prince and who’s a monster, who is a victim and who should live happily ever after. (These are the most interesting stories of all.) Drowning Instinct is a novel of pain, deception, desperation, and love against the odds—and the rules
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Reviewed by Caroline Hodges
First off, kudos to Quercus for publishing a story covering such a taboo subject.  Drowning Instinct centres around the romantic relationship developing between a married teacher and his pupil.  Yet if I were to pick one word I would say this novel is really about, it’d be loneliness.
I was all set up to hate this teacher who’d so obviously be taking advantage of a kid.  But the truth is, there are no good or bad guys here. There are no winners. Actually by the end of the book there just seems to be a whole lot of losers.  Every character has a sob story, the mother turning to drink because of her neglectful philandering husband, the brother dodging bullets in the middle-east, the class mates with secrets to hide.  Every one of them has a reason for how they act as they do and in a way I’d say that’s what I don’t like about the book: the heroine is so utterly damaged, the back-story so tragic, it’s like that’s the only reason the relationship occurs.  I feel like that needn’t have been the case.  Both halves are unhappy and lonely, searching for something or someone to give their lives meaning and I feel that alone is enough for a story like this to happen.  But to give Bick credit, Jenna’s history does make for some shocking revelations throughout the novel.   
In all honesty this is the hardest book I’ve ever had to review.  Society tells me a relationship between teacher and student can only ever be wrong wrong wrong.  But the story is told completely from Jenna’s point of view and to her way of thinking at least, they are in love and she has no regrets.  That sounds idealistic but throughout the book though she uncovers lies he has told and she, and I think ultimately the reader, reaches the conclusion their love is true.
But is this really the case or just the result of an unhealthy obsession with someone who has helped to heal a broken soul?  Undoubtedly Jenna flourishes under Mr Anderson’s guidance, she’s more self confident and challenges those that would bully her.  The change is actually quite phenomenal between Jenna at the start of the book and at the end.  
The writing is fast paced, and though I’m not necessarily one for fancy words and complicated paragraphs (if I’m enjoying a book, that’s enough for me), Bick’s writing has a certain eloquence to it.  To Jenna, everything is what it is and as such the story is completely believable, despite the myriad of awfulness in Jenna’s life.  Everything about it is just so dark it’s fascinating in that morbid sort of way us humans have, yet it’s also unsatisfying in a way.  The teacher isn’t the bad guy I was waiting for.
Drowning Instinct won’t supply any answers on the rights or wrongs of teacher/student relationships, but what it will do is take you on one heck of a ride through yourself and what you believe in.      


  1. Woah. Sounds like Drowning Instinct packs an emotional punch. I love love love books that deal with taboo subjects and this one sounds so well-written. Great review!

    - Ellie at The Selkie Reads Stories

  2. I'm not sure if I'd buy this but I'd pick up if I saw it in the library. Thanks for the review :)

  3. That does sound like it would be difficult to review. It puts me in mind of several girls I knew who had huge crushes on some young and handsome teachers in high school - not that anything ever happened there, but these were normal girls (not with horrific backgrounds like the girl in the novel). I imagine this sort of thing happens more often than we would like to think.

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